YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

October 11, 2009

Veteran’s housing (post world war two), Elmhurst, Queens

veterans housing project, postwarThis is where I lived for about five years after the second world war, in which my father had served as a pathologist in the medical corps. There was a Kiwanis Club contest for oratory, and I gave a talk “Why Veteran’s Housing Is Unsatisfactory, ” regaling the club with stories of paraplegics and other enlisted men living in tiny huts with kerosene stoves that sometimes exploded, injuring or killing (?) the occupants. I lost the contest to a girl who spoke about “Prejudice,” but I still got a Demosthenes medal that I  treasure. One of the judges was a Democratic city councilman who had supported this ghastly project as a suitable reward for veterans and their families.

I remember my classmates who were with me at P.S. 13: they had names that were Irish, Polish and Italian; i.e., their parents were probably very recent immigrants, like the Eastern Jews who terrified the WASP elite, who then passed the Immigration Act of 1924, closing the golden door to all but a few.

My memories of this project were happy, mostly because my family was reunited, and my father’s medical practice was next door to our tiny place. But it pains me to think of how enlisted men were treated, and it was obviously a class issue. The memory of this place still haunts my dreams, and perhaps that is why I place such emphasis on the development of military psychiatry. See the index to my blogs here: https://clarespark.com/2010/04/22/links-to-blogs-on-military-psychiatry/. The original photo was published in the Queens Post, and the red line shows where it was cropped. My late mother, Betty Spark wrote a weekly column for them, and her interest in people and her ability to write about almost anything of concern to the unfamous was passed on to me.

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11 Comments »

  1. In our early years there, I don’t remember seeing many black families, but I fondly remember my one black friend, a somewhat older and much taller girl named Barbara Anthony. She used to carry me on her shoulders. They may have moved out of the project much sooner than we did, because she disappeared from my life. I wish I could find her now, but her name is somewhat common. With regard to the photo, it is easy to assume that the photographer sought out the worst possible conditions on the project – which as I recall, was built on landfill or a previous dumping ground.
    Barbara Spark June 16, 2017

    Comment by Barbara J Spark — June 17, 2017 @ 6:49 pm | Reply

  2. My parents lived there after the war. My brother and I enjoyed it as our 1st home. We were both born in the City (Manhattan) at St.Claire’s Hospital on 57th & 9ave. He was born Dec 1946 & I Sept 1949. We moved out to Rocky Point 60 miles out on the Island in 1951 where I lived until I married in 1975. I have a few pics of my brother & I at our project home. Thanks for the memories.

    Comment by oldcharley — September 9, 2016 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

  3. Ms. Park, I am writing a book about living in Elmhurst during the post-war years. I lived in the veterans’ housing project during that time and also attended PS 13. I would like to use the photo in your article in my book. Who might I contact for the requisite permission? Thanks.

    Comment by FG Spera — June 29, 2016 @ 3:38 pm | Reply

    • The photo is in the public domain. Good luck with your book.

      Comment by clarelspark — June 29, 2016 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

      • Ms. Spark, I plan to reference this posting and use your photo in my own blog later this year. I am blogging about my family history and am including the post WWII housing crisis as one of the events that caused my parents to wait 3 years before they married and had their jobs and an apartment all in place for married life. Thank you for sharing these memories and this photo. I will link back to your blog.

        Comment by EmilyAnn Frances — June 16, 2017 @ 11:52 pm

  4. Thanks for finally talking about >Veterans housing (post world war two), Elmhurst, Queens | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog <Liked it!

    Comment by Lori — March 27, 2015 @ 8:34 am | Reply

  5. As a retired navy veteran your narrative and picture are very interesting. At the World War II museum in New Orleans there are kiosks where you can sit and listen to oral histories as pictures are displayed. I remember seeing similar pictures in a different city. It’s an unfortunate flaw of the human condition that allows these substandard houses. It wasn’t and isn’t a matter of resources, just an attitude of those in authority. Please continue to share your experiences as an Army brat.

    Comment by Peter Buletza — November 9, 2013 @ 5:17 pm | Reply

  6. In Canarsie, close to where I lived in Brownsville, returning GI’s were housed in Quonset huts that were ugly, but the scene was far better than the one depicted in the photo you posted which looks more like the deep south during segregation.

    Comment by Bob Ennis — November 9, 2013 @ 2:44 pm | Reply

    • The veterans housing project depicted was integrated. I don’t remember any black children in P.S. 13 where I went to school while we lived there, so perhaps the photographer picked up some black people who were unusual. What I recall is that they were all enlisted men and their families, with a heavy dose of descendants of Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants. There may have been others of whom I was unaware.

      Comment by clarelspark — November 9, 2013 @ 3:56 pm | Reply

  7. Reblogged this on YDS: The Clare Spark Blog and commented:

    For Veteran’s Day weekend, 2013.

    Comment by clarelspark — November 9, 2013 @ 1:28 am | Reply


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